March 2015 /// Vol 236 No. 3

Columns

Executive viewpoint

The mainstreaming of MPD

Mark Mitchell, AFGlobal Corporation

Managed Pressure Drilling (MPD) is undergoing a fundamental transition. Similar to advances in earlier rig technologies, operator demand is driving an increasingly rapid MPD deployment in offshore markets. The change spans the domains of drilling contractors, manufacturers and service companies alike, and its success depends heavily on their close collaboration.

This is a familiar transition, involving the introduction of new demands and the resulting integration of new equipment into the rig fleet. It is similar to the introduction of automated pipe handling equipment and top drive systems. The sophisticated systems deployed today had their origins in new drilling demands—simultaneous rotation, reciprocation and circulation in horizontal wells—that were met initially with bolt-on technology that, in retrospect, is only a rough approximation of current capabilities.

So it is with MPD. In deepwater applications especially, the methodology is providing operators with a broadly applicable solution to a range of drilling challenges. The requirement for contractors, manufacturers and service companies is to deliver an effective MPD infrastructure. Doing that requires teamwork that joins rig, equipment, and service company priorities in a common objective.

This is clearly recognized by the various parties. Everyone understands the need to provide the customer with an effective solution, and that is the direction in which everyone is pointed. But it does not make the task easy. There are lots of parts and priorities that must come together.

It is at this point of transition, as MPD becomes a mainstream capability, that industry finds itself. The initial thrust in this transition is to develop an existing fleet, such that rigs are available, competitive, and in compliance with escalating regulatory and operator requirements.

Market demands. MPD is a growing application for a variety of reasons—from well control and safety, to the ability to drill effectively in a range of extreme wellbore environments. The applicable markets for this methodology are global.

The MPD equipment inventory is growing in size, as well as sophistication. In 2009, the offshore industry could field enough equipment for perhaps a dozen simultaneous MPD operations. Today, that figure has grown five-fold. There are roughly a half-dozen companies providing some portion of an MPD kit and/or services for floating rig applications.

The increase in MPD systems is a matter of demand. National oil companies and major operators have grown familiar and comfortable with MPD methodologies, and are applying them to achieve advantages in a variety of drilling challenges.

Petrobras has been an early adopter of MPD, and they are well underway, with plans to fit MPD into a significant portion of their deepwater fleet. The drivers are safety and drilling ability in carbonate formations. Similar circumstances exist in West African markets. A strong regulatory impetus and kick-loss detection are key issues in the Gulf of Mexico. Asian drilling also faces carbonate challenges, and North Sea operations must contend with drilling through depleted reservoirs. In these and other markets, MPD is being used to improve and enable drilling operations.

Collaborative answers. As these global MPD drilling projects take shape, they require a lot of interaction between the operators, contractors, service companies and equipment manufacturers. Much of this collaboration is occurring late in the process, during system integration testing. The level of complexity involved underscores the need to address integration from the beginning.

Starting late in the process has proven to be costly and a less-than-effective approach. The thoughtful deployment of an MPD system requires that integration start by building working teams at the beginning of the project. All the parties recognize this, but working it all out is part of the transition.

The capital equipment provider’s current role is to manufacture equipment that connects the MPD service company’s equipment with the rig systems. As a result, successful manufacturers must be in a position to understand service company and contractor perspectives, and help facilitate solutions.

But that will change. Through each collaboration and experience, each of the parties involved will gain in this holistic perspective. Today, there is still limited experience in how to build and employ an effective MPD system. But with each MPD system built and installed, that collective understanding grows.

Contractors are at the forefront of this understanding, because it is taking place on their rigs. In this respect, they are quickly becoming the masters of their own domain. This is especially true, as the MPD transition moves from the occasional odd rig to multiple rigs across entire fleets.

A transition with momentum. As a transition implies, this is a time of change. The industry is well past the point of proving the validity of MPD. Managed pressure methods have clearly moved out of the niche and onto the big stage. The industry is moving quickly to build an offshore fleet to reflect that stature. As the operational context and operator demand increase, all parties are gearing up to provide a larger inventory of equipment and MPD-ready rigs. Now the task—and the challenge—is not just innovation aimed at discrete components, but joining equipment and service elements in a seamless, integrated MPD system. wo-box_blue.gif 

The Authors ///

Mark Mitchell is president, Oil and Gas, at AFGlobal Corporation, responsible for the strategic, operational and financial performance of the company’s largest, fastest-growing business segment. He joined AFGlobal in 2013 as V.P, Drilling Systems. Prior to joining AFGlobal, Mr. Mitchell held escalating leadership positions at Weatherford International, including V.P., Drilling Optimization Services and V.P., Drilling Tools. With more than 30 years in the industry, his experience includes direct responsibility for operations, manufacturing, sales and QHSSE. His areas of expertise include drilling tools, fishing and re-entry, tubular running, pressure control, MPD, and drilling hazard mitigation technologies.

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